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What Is Sleep Apnea?

man sleeping badly

Sleep disorders can be some of the hardest to diagnose, because you might not realize how disruptive they are while you are asleep. Sleep apnea causes you to stop and restart breathing many times during an hour, and each of these episodes of not breathing can last for more than a couple of seconds. Eventually, your brain realizes that you aren’t breathing and jolts you from your sleep to take a deep breath. This can happen so fast that you might not remember it at all. There is good news about this condition, though! New and established treatments are available that your dentist in Fairfax can offer you to help make sure you breathe normally as you sleep.

What Causes a Sleep Apnea Episode?

Sleep apnea episodes happen because your soft tissues that line your throat and airway get extremely relaxed as you sleep. Then, the airway gets constricted every time you breathe in. The tightness can become so excessive that not even air can make it through the narrowed passageway. Once your brain catches up to the fact that you’re not getting adequate air intake, it will wake you up as a lifesaving measure. You’ll usually shift briefly in your sleep and catch a breath. Then, the cycle will repeat once you fully relax again. When you think about how this can happen all over again throughout multiple instances during the night, you can see how achieving a hard, restful sleep is virtually impossible.

Are Certain People at Greater Risk for Sleep Apnea?

When you talk to your doctor or dentist in Fairfax about episodes of severe snoring or waking up gasping for air, they’ll assess your risk factors. Anyone can develop sleep apnea at any point in their life, and parents will even want to be alert for the signs of this sleep disorder in their children. However, older adults and men tend to have this disorder more often than other people who don’t fit these demographics. In fact, men have sleep apnea at two to three times the rate as women. People who are overweight, smoke or have COPD could also see their risk for the disorder increase.

Can You Watch for Certain Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

If you have a sleeping partner, then they may be the person who can shed the most light on your sleeping patterns without going to a sleep clinic. People with sleep apnea often have partners who tell them that they snore loudly or seem to stop breathing in the middle of the night. Always take these comments as a warning sign. At best, you might get your sleep assessed and find out that nothing is wrong. However, it could save you from serious consequences that can develop from going without oxygen multiple times each night.

During the day, you might also experience these signs that you have sleep apnea.

  • Being cranky, as you might expect from someone who doesn’t get restful sleep
  • Finding it hard to process new information or work through a problem
  • Dreading the sound of your alarm, if it even manages to wake you up
  • Feeling a choking sensation when you wake up at night
  • Having headaches or a sensation of dizziness when you wake up in the morning

Are There Multiple Types of Sleep Apnea?

The underlying reason for your sleep apnea is what a doctor or dentist in Fairfax will use when you reach out to them about your sleep challenges. Obstructive sleep apnea is the type that our dentists can help with the most, and it is the most common type to see in people who visit our office. This type is linked to the relaxation of muscles in or near your airway that obstructs your windpipe.

Central sleep apnea is associated with your nervous system, and it mostly begins in the brain. Your brain protects you from oxygen deprivation as you sleep by sending signals to your body that it needs to keep breathing. Occasionally, this automatic response stops working in some people. This can occur in people with heart disease or respiratory ailments that block communication signals between these systems and the brain or cause them to misfire.

What Treatments Work for Sleep Apnea?

The easiest treatment for sleep apnea could provide you with prompt relief from your symptoms. The best sleeping position for people with sleep apnea is on their side. You can use pillows to provide your back with support to help keep you in this position if you tend to roll over during the night. If you are overweight, then shedding those excess pounds should be on your list of priorities, and both of these strategies can help you, even if you opt for additional treatments.

Sleep medicine practitioners often recommend using a Continuous Positive Air Pressure machine. This device involves a simple set up of a mask that includes a hose that runs air from the machine into your airway. The slight pressured air helps to push the soft tissues out of the way, which makes it possible for your airway to remain open.

Dental appliances are another treatment option that your dentist in Fairfax can help you get started on using. These can take several different forms, but the general concept behind all of the types is to keep your jaw and soft tissues in your mouth aligned properly for better breathing.

If you try all of these options and still don’t find relief, then surgery might be your final resort. Sometimes, a surgery can remove the primary cause of a blockage. For example, a tonsillectomy can take out oversized tonsils that repeatedly block your airway.

Should You Tell Your Dentist in Fairfax About Your Sleep Apnea?

Hearing that you aren’t breathing at night can cause you to feel stressed, but please don’t worry. Your dentist in Fairfax is here to help you find a solution that involves using dental appliances to improve your nighttime breathing. In fact, we’ll even show you the different types of appliances that are available and make a recommendation on which one will help keep your airway clear.

Then, we’ll check how the appliance fits in your mouth and make adjustments as they are needed. After you give it a trial run, we’ll then help you resolve any issues that come up with wearing your new dental appliance to treat your sleep apnea. With our help, you’ll find that the appliance is comfortable enough that you can once again enjoy deep, restful sleep that infuses your days with energy.

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10614 Warwick Avenue, Ste A, Fairfax, VA 22030

(703) 565-2503